Business Technology

Friday 17 January 2020

It may be a business cliché, but honing the right strategy can lead to great things

Startup Diary

Case study: Nobody can say Steve Jobs used the wrong strategy when he returned to Apple
Case study: Nobody can say Steve Jobs used the wrong strategy when he returned to Apple

Richard Rodger

The strategy of your business is both a burden and a super power. The idea of strategy is such a business cliché that the mere thought of it makes you feel ill. And yet, if you get your strategy right, wonderful things happen.

Nobody can claim that Steve Jobs used the wrong strategy when he came back to Apple. Strategy works.

Last week, I introduced another business cliché: the 'model'. I gave you a model for thinking about strategy.

Structuring your thinking in this way helps to keep everything accountable, as well as helping you to explain it to your staff.

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The strategy model is Mission-Strategy-Tactics. Mission is the big-picture goals. Strategy is the cause-effect narrative that explains how you get to those goals. Tactics are the measurable actions you take to implement the strategy. This gives you a nice and clean way to separate strategies and tactics; the former induce hand-waving, the latter bring forth bonuses.

Entire business books have been written to expand on that last paragraph. Probably the best of the lot is 'High Output Management' by Intel founder Andy Grove.

But I'm afraid I do not recommend it; rather, I assign it to you as homework. It's not a fun read. Nobody said being a startup founder was fun.

Something else must be said about strategy. There is a painful truth to business: outcomes do not follow from actions. There is just too much going on in the world. You can execute your tactics to high precision under the best strategy with the most honourable goals and still fail.

Conversely, you can get it all wrong and still win big. To slightly misquote Andy Rachleff, a well-known former partner of the venture capital firm Benchmark Capital: "When a great [strategy] meets a lousy market, market wins. When a lousy [strategy] meets a great market, market wins."

The best you can do is try to get your strategy right and be ready to pounce on luck if it happens.

Leave the boring execution of well-defined product strategy based on accurate market research to Procter & Gamble.

Our strategy for 2020 at Voxgig is based on this underlying model. Our mission remains the building of a great business network for speakers and organisers in the technology conference market. To do this, we have the following set of strategies.

For speakers, we focus on building great tools for them, because they are very under-served market participants. By getting speakers to use our system, we get organisers to use our system.

For organisers, we focus on building great tools to help them automate speaker management, as this is again a gap in the offering of other tools.

By getting organisers to use our system, we get speakers to use our system.

Combining these strategies, we get a virtuous invitation loop that should solve the biggest challenge that any business-to-business Software-as-a-Service startup has: reducing the marketing cost of each new user.

It's easy to spend lots of venture capital money on advertising and look like you have a great business, but fall into the trap of selling each individual apple at a loss, and trying to make it up in volume. Business has not changed much since the ancient Sumerians started invoicing each other in Cuneiform writing on stone tablets 5,000-odd years ago.

(You must forgive me a slight digression. Invoices also went unpaid all those years ago and stone tablets of complaint followed.

A quote from the earliest ever found: "Tell Ea-nasir, Nanni sends the following message - what do you take me for, that you treat somebody like me with such contempt?

"I have sent messengers to collect the bag with my money … but you have sent them back to me empty-handed several times, and that through enemy territory. Is there anyone among the merchants … who has treated me in this way?

"You alone treat my messenger with contempt. On account of that one (trifling) mina of silver which I owe you, you feel free to speak in such a way, while I have given to the palace on your behalf 1,080 pounds of copper.")

Tactically, the strategies for speakers and organisers are similar. The following are our main tactics.

First, we engage in direct consulting-style sales and trials with carefully selected partners and users. This gives us ongoing feedback about the quality of our system.

Secondly, we build a user community by running meetings, writing newsletters, hosting podcasts and being good conference citizens (we support World Speech Day - a non-profit initiative that encourages teenagers to learn the art of public speaking).

Third, now that we are satisfied with the early versions of our products, we can start releasing them to the public piece by piece (a big-bang launch is high risk for low reward).

Everything else that we do is a variation on this theme.

Is this the right strategy for 2020? Keep reading to find out...

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